Friday, May 24, 2024

Royal Enfields, Made Like a Gun

Large cannon in war memorial.
A big cannon is solid, all-steel, mechanically complex, and makes a thump.

 Today's subject is not motorcycles, but artillery, as displayed on war memorials

These have always fascinated me, and not just because I ride a Royal Enfield motorcycle. 

"Made Like A Gun" is the time honored motto of Royal Enfield motorcycles, but the motorcycle-gun connection is tenuous. 

The motto stems from the brand's earliest days. Implying some relationship to the famed Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, England, was considered just plain good marketing by a firm that made bicycles in the nearby town of Redditch. 

The company was proud that it had made some parts for the armory (although, apparently, never complete guns). The parts contract was considered adequate justification for calling its bicycles (and, later, motorcycles) "Royal Enfields."

Although the "Made Like A Gun" motto was occasionally illustrated with a drawing of a rifle, the "gun" was usually shown as what most people would call a cannon. (The British military preferred to call even such big weapons "guns" since, after all, "cannon is a French word.")

Ever since, owners of Royal Enfield motorcycles have loved posing their motorcycles in front of war memorials, especially memorials featuring cannon, although warplanes on pedestals attract Royal Enfields as well.

Big cannon in war memorial.
The present Tampa gun was modified to fire from a railroad car. Four big hydraulic canisters cushion the recoil.

And so, on a recent visit to Tampa, Florida, I was delighted to discover a whomping big artillery piece in a  park on the grounds of the University of Tampa. The monument it decorates is dedicated to veterans of the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The base of the monument describes the gun, but I wanted to know more, and boy, did I find it: an entire webpage devoted to this monument.

To my surprise, the description of the gun on the monument itself is wrong. In exacting detail, the website Tampapix explains that the monument base originally hosted a different big gun. That one was cut up and scrapped for its metal during World War II.

Base of memorial gives wrong date for gun.
Base says gun was placed in 1927, but this gun is a 1946 replacement.

The base of the monument sat forlorn three years until 1946 when, with little fanfare, Tampa war veterans found another 8-inch cannon of the same era and the city and county paid to have it mounted. The lack of fanfare is odd, as the thing was said to weigh 15 tons, and it sits atop the memorial base on a different mounting. It is quite a big deal.

The original cannon would have been one of my favorite oddities: a "disappearing gun." This almost whimsical seacoast-defense gun would recoil back to hide below the open-topped walls of its emplacement, effectively disappearing from the view of enemy battleships after firing.

Fine, for 1898. Not so fine after the invention of the airplane, from which it was not invisible.

The replacement gun is certainly worthy of display. Whether disappearing or not, it, too, would have defended the coast, but it was rendered obsolete as battleships began to be equipped with bigger, longer ranged cannon.

It got a second life, modified as a railroad gun. Mounted on a special carriage it could approach enemy lines on the tracks. This particular gun may even have seen combat in World War I, Tampapix states (although, unusually for it, without documentation).

Big hand wheel aims gun.
Big old gun was complex, but still aimed by hand.

Royal Enfield's motto, Built Like A Gun, very properly suggests the robust construction, precision (and complication!) of these enormous creations. Mounted as memorials to wars of 100 years ago or more, they might also be described as built to last.


  1. Hi
    Your article was really interesting. Especially the bit about the original armament piece being of the disappearing variety. My Enfield 350 and I live in Bangkok. Recently, on a ride out (on my Royal Alloy scooter, rather than the Enfield), I discovered some old british built disappearing guns at 2 forts near the mouth of the Chao Praya river. Last used against those dastardly French in the late 1800's.

    You can see the pictures I took here, if you find them interesting:

    1. Thank you. I had thought disappearing guns were an American enthusiasm, but your photos show a British made Armstrong 6-inch disappearing gun, one of 10 positioned to defend the river approach to Bangkok. Nicknamed "crouching tiger cannon" by the Thais, these were used against advancing French warships in the 1893 Paknam Incident. They surely would have proved their worth except the guns were commanded by too few Danish technicians, some of whom did not speak Siamese. One account says "these officers were running breathlessly to their guns in turn up and down half-finished steps and gun-platforms, avoiding pitfalls as best they might, and communicating their orders in languages which none of the astonished gunners understood." Loss of life was small, but the French ships did reach Bangkok and point their guns at the royal palace. The victory enabled France to impose harsh penalties on Siam.

  2. They are also in NZ at the old fortress in Devonport. We used to enjoy exploring the tunnels when we lived there.

    Apparantly this type of gun was not much good as they had very limited adjustment for trajectory due to the nature of the disappearing trick.

  3. clarkthespark@yahoo.com6/16/2024

    David - I enjoyed this article. From what I have read over the years, there were disappearing guns used at Fort Mills on Corregidor Island in the Philipines. And I believe they did see use in WWII against the Japanese.

    1. According to Wiki "The ruins of Fort Mills are impressive, and feature the largest concentration of surviving US coast defense guns in the world." Thank you for pointing it out.


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